Legendary Storyteller Wes Craven passed away at 76 this week.
I say "story teller" and not film maker because Wes Craven's creation, A Nightmare on Elm Street transcends film. I know that you're thinking that most film makers are in fact story tellers and you would be right. However, his creation of Freddy Kruger seemed to have existed outside of the screen and was a very active part of my childhood.
As far as I can remember, I've always known who Freddy Kruger was. I remember in my Catholic kindergarten school marching down the stairs in single file to the basement where our cafeteria was located. I remember the the piping that stretched along the walls and ceiling, the shadows that curved around them and for a moment I saw four long blades glitter between the early afternoon light and pitch black darkness. Kindergarten. I know that there is no way in hell I would have been able to see A Nightmare on Elm Street yet here I was, just a little boy in a Catholic school uniform waiting for Freddy. Other kids knew who Freddy was too. How did they know? We talked about the supposed sightings of the famous sweater and beaten fedora. Up until I graduated from my kindergarten/junior high school I was weary about being alone in that basement. I'd laugh off the notion of Freddy as a casually tried to speed walk the hell out of there.
My earliest nightmare that I can remember is actually of Craven's deranged vengeful spirit. Appropriately, my dream took place in a local video rental store. I can remember trying to find my Dad in the long dark aisles of VHS tapes. The wooden shelves seemed to buckle under the weight of all the videos; creaking and moaning out Freddy's song, "One, two Freddy's coming for you...".
I called out to my Dad in the darkness. I tried to run away from the black shadows that was swallowing up the aisle. When I found my way back to the front of the store I saw high up in the corner that there was a think spider's web, in it was a large hornet struggling to break free. Next to that web was a flickering security monitor and sure enough there was Freddy, laughing at me. I turned running from the monitor to the open door. Freedom within my grasp.
Slicing his way through the darkness was the nightmare I had been running from. Impossibly tall, he stared down at me, displaying his glove. I couldn't see his face, just yellow eyes and teeth. Suddenly, a white hot beam of light imprisoned him . He was lifted then high into that the tunnel, twirling like a cyclone until the sky swallowed him.
That dream has always stuck with me, especially the hornet in the web (yikes). Any time I saw a cob web around those pipes I swear I could fell a cold tingle flutter up my spine. Years later, around Halloween, I begged my Mom for a Freddy glove. Like an good parent she bought the glove for me with out questioning why I wanted such a gruesome fake murder weapon (it made fake blood splattered on it) or how I had come to know who Freddy was; I think the only thing that scared her was the price. In my kid logic, I had to become the thing that I was afraid of. Freddy wasn't going to hurt me and if he tried, I'd be ready with my plastic replica glove of his...again kid logic.
The Nightmare never came for me again. I do however remember another ground breaking moment. While running around the house pretending to be I'm sure a different character I remember hearing Freddy's trademark cackle on the T.V. with an announcer stating, "He's baaaaack...". This was 1994 and Kruger was making his return in Wes Craven's New Nightmare and this is where I learned who Wes Craven was. I can't remember the show but I believe it was an episode of Entertainment Tonight. In it he was explaining how writing Freddy was like "coming back to an old friend".
"Friend"? This was huge for me. While apart of me had always known how films worked there was something about seeing the man who made Freddy was remarkable. It was quite the epiphany. It especially was mesmerizing to see footage of Wes Craven directing Freddy (not known to me yet that it was actor Robert Englund) on set; this guy is telling Freddy WHAT TO DO! It some how took away Freddy's power and yet gave him a greater meaning to me. It made me realize what imagination truly is. Kruger wasn't just somebody else's nightmare but somebody's dream.
As I grew older I was finally able to see A Nightmare on Elm Street and much to my surprise not only did I find it frightening but hilarious as well. Freddy brought terror as well as comic relief; you don't often get the two from just one character who also is the antagonist!
I would later go on to explore his other works such as The Last House on the Left, The Hills have Eyes, Swamp Thing, The People Under the Stairs, Scream and Red Eye. It was fascinating to watch him flex his creative muscles in other films; exploring his other nightmares. I could also appreciate how he was pushing the boundaries of storytelling as well. The People Under the Stairs featured a young African-American boy as the lead, continuing to promote strong female characters, and exposing society's ills. It taught me that horror wasn't just used to scare us but to recognize our strengths as well as our fears, the true terror was not knowing the difference. As Craven once famously said: "Horror films don't create fear, the release it."
Wes Craven was an intelligent and talented man who could take the every day fears and not only exposed them to us in imaginative and terrifying ways but that if we looked hard enough they could be over come. Maybe, I understood that lesson as a child by begging my mother for the Freddy Kruger glove. Some how Mr. Craven instilled on to me that maybe the fear wasn't around me but within and to conquer that fear I had to overcome it, become the the thing that I was petrified of. That the real fear was not of the monsters or the unknown but of not understanding them. Ignorance is perhaps the most ugly and horrific being to plague us both individually and as a society.
Of course, Mr. Craven also taught me the power of the dream, imagination and just how powerful a good story can be. That can only come from a master story teller, not just a film maker.
Thank you for the dreams and nightmares.